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Where to next this summer with decent skies? Western US...

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#1 xonefs

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Posted 25 June 2021 - 11:57 PM

I've been on a road trip and have all my gear packed in my car. Astro observing and imaging is a big part of this trip (along with regular daytime landscape photography and nightscapes). So far I've done Texas, New Mexico, AZ, Utah, and most recently nearly a month in California. My biggest unexpected hurdle in a lot of these places has been wind. 

 

I've had great skies in most of these places but didn't do any astro in Utah (full moon and I fled from clouds during the lunar eclipse and haven't been back). 

 

As we get into the heat of summer things seem to be changing- it seems there are a lot of problems with fires/smoke emerging now and in other places it looks like summer storms/clouds, or are just too hot.

 

So I'm looking for input on a route to take of places to explore near national parks that will also give me a decent chance of good clear skies. I also want to go a bit more north but I'm concerned about the shorter nights at higher latitudes and less visibility as well making some places not worth it, so I might try to time going to them during a full moon (if I went to Glacier NP for example). 

 

From CA I was thinking of either going up to the PNW through Oregon/Washington, or going to Wyoming through Idaho. I'm a bit concerned about clouds in all of these places looking at weather from the past few days and pics I've seen from a friend in Wyoming. 

 

Any feedback/ideas? Good spots to check out in any of these areas? hidden places or things to be aware of?

 

Colorado is an eventual destination later in the summer on my way back.

 



#2 Bill Weir

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 12:38 AM

PNW is starting to head into those oh so horrible endless days of Sun and clear skies that tend to last for the rest of the summer. Central to eastern Washington should be nice but hot. Can’t tell you where because I like to stay on my side of the border. The bunch on this page might give you some ideas.

https://www.cloudyni.../#entry10272670

 

Bill


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#3 xonefs

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 01:33 AM

PNW is starting to head into those oh so horrible endless days of Sun and clear skies that tend to last for the rest of the summer. Central to eastern Washington should be nice but hot. Can’t tell you where because I like to stay on my side of the border. The bunch on this page might give you some ideas.

https://www.cloudyni.../#entry10272670

 

Bill

Yeah?

 

Hmm I was worried the PNW would be more cloudy- looking at the big map cloud forecast models it looks pretty good outside of the coast whereas inland US near Utah/Co/Wyoming is looking worse. I don't know enough about the areas to know if these trends are typical since they seem to shift the other way around farther out. I've been pretty spoiled since where I've previously chosen to go I've had clear skies 90% of the time. Clear skies during daytime are ideal too for what I like to shoot. 



#4 SeattleScott

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 11:12 AM

PNW is good. Oregon star party rocks. Bend OR area is great too. BEAUTIFUL area during daytime also, Cascade Lakes trails, Mt Bachelor, Three Sisters, etc. And if you aren’t a fit young man you can take the chair lift up. Sunriver has regular star parties in summer.

Scott
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#5 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 11:49 AM

Be prepared for some very hot temperatures in the PNW.

 

https://abcnews.go.c...ory?id=78446356

https://www.nbcnews....thwest-n1272247


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#6 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 12:33 PM

Be prepared for some very hot temperatures in the PNW.

 

https://abcnews.go.c...ory?id=78446356

https://www.nbcnews....thwest-n1272247

 

The key to comfortable weather in the summer is altitude. 

 

Look at Phoenix versus Flagstaff.  1000 feet elevation versus 7000 feet.

 

In the next 10 days, the predicted highs Flagstaff range from 71°F to 83°F, the highs for Phoenix, 98°F to 112°F.. and 98° for summer in Phoenix, that's cool..

 

Jon


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#7 oldmanrick

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 12:55 PM

The high desert East of Bend can be great.  Wildfires can spoil all of that though.

 

If I were looking for a great place for astro observing, I would choose the Steens Mountains South of Burns, Oregon.  Very isolated and decent road gets you up above 9000 feet elevation.  Light pollution should be nil.

 

If going to this region, be prepared for heat, (less at higher elevations as Jon said), but the sun can be merciless.  Take lots of water and fill your gas tank.  Also plan for shade, as there are few trees out there.

 

The Steens also can provide great opportunities for landscape photography, both day and night.

 

Another place I have experienced fantastic views of the night sky is atop the Grand Mesa out of Grand Junction Colorado.

 

Here in Montana I think the best opportunities for astro and near Yellowstone NP would be on the Bearthooth Plateau, South of Red Lodge.  It is high, around 10,000 feet as I recall.  The terrain opens up nicely for wide views of the sky, with scenic small lakes, canyons, etc, which could make for some outstanding landscape photo opportunities.  Be aware, there are Grizzly Bears and other large wild critters there which could make things more than interesting at night.

 

Hope this helps, and that you have clear skies!

 

Rick 


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#8 VeloBob

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 01:18 PM

The thing to remember about the PNW is that everything east of the Cascades is a desert, and most of it is moderately high desert as well.  The climate is officially labeled as "Mediterranean" as very little rainfall occurs in summer--that means that clear skies, at least as far as clouds are concerned, is a given.  However, it also means that smoke from fires is also a given.  A couple of years ago while riding my bicycle in eastern Idaho, visibility was down to less than 100 yards from smoke from fires two states away.  I quit the ride because of the combination of smoke and altitude--riding over Lost Trail Pass at roughly 7,000', I just couldn't get my breath.

 

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#9 sevenofnine

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 07:15 PM

ZION!! & BRYCE CANYON waytogo.gif   


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#10 Bill Weir

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 08:27 PM

Be prepared for some very hot temperatures in the PNW.

 

https://abcnews.go.c...ory?id=78446356

https://www.nbcnews....thwest-n1272247

Yes it is hotter than normal here right now but the humidity is lower than when hot in the NE.

 

And to those mentioning smoke, what smoke? There are no fires around this part of the continent right now.

 

Bill



#11 xonefs

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 08:31 PM

Ok it sounds like PNW high desert might be the right move for astro

Taking any suggestions on heading uo that way and places to stop- im considering maybe driving up the coast but not sure when to cross over. Or not since I already did the drive through big sur to the bay area but I don’t know. I know crater lake will def be a stop if I go to oregon

#12 vsteblina

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Posted 26 June 2021 - 10:42 PM

Here is some information on Crater Lake NP:  https://usbackroads....ional-park.html

 

On the Deshutes National Forest you want to visit: https://usbackroads....ades-lakes.html

 

This spot is dark and close to Crater Lake.  Lots of places to camp on the Forest Service managed lands.

 

http://ttps://usback...ot.com/2015/07/

 

As others have mentioned...the Steens.


Edited by vsteblina, 26 June 2021 - 11:26 PM.


#13 xonefs

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Posted 27 June 2021 - 12:00 AM

Here is some information on Crater Lake NP:  https://usbackroads....ional-park.html

 

On the Deshutes National Forest you want to visit: https://usbackroads....ades-lakes.html

 

This spot is dark and close to Crater Lake.  Lots of places to camp on the Forest Service managed lands.

 

http://ttps://usback...ot.com/2015/07/

 

As others have mentioned...the Steens.

 

Thank you. Any decent free places to camp with decent roads? I'm not in a very offroad-worthy vehicle this trip (next time). Or developed campgrounds or places to stay that cater to astronomy, or are just good spots to camp and set up a telescope right outside your tent with clear horizons all around. 

 

 

I could also use general route feedback. I'm coming from the bay area and not in a huge rush this week since the moon will still be out. Would you go up the coast or more direct through the middle of the state? Assume I am mostly unfamiliar with all of it. 

 

I already did the coast from LA to San Fran and parts were nice, north could be good too or better since there's less city stretches but idk what's along the way there (I already did mt tam/muir woods but no further). 

 

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Edited by xonefs, 27 June 2021 - 12:02 AM.


#14 river-z

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Posted 27 June 2021 - 08:46 AM

The main thing that occurs to me about the difference in the two routes is temperature. The route in the valley is gonna be hot. The closer you stay to the ocean the cooler it will be.
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#15 elzopilote

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Posted 27 June 2021 - 09:00 AM

Go to Nevada my friend. Look at a light pollution map and Nevada is that expansive area of black. Another incredible advantage is the easy access to solitude and natural beauty. I love the are around Ely (elevation 6500) which is cool all summer long, big horizons all around and endless amounts of BLM and National Forest land to camp in. Some great spots to camp are Cleeve Creek, Illipah Reservoir, Ward Mountain and of course Great Basin. 



#16 PNW

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Posted 27 June 2021 - 12:46 PM

I've been up and down the coast many times in the MG. 101 at the Humbolt / Mendocino border has some of the darkest skies I've ever seen. Yes, there are campgrounds next to the Eel river, a great place to cool off. But, it's popular for summer festivals. You should see if any are happening in the newly post covid world. There's about a dozen stop lights in Eureka and Crescent City that will slow you down. 199 out of Crescent City follows the Smith River and it's spectacular. The gorge narrows to about 50 feet near the border. That route takes you through the heart of Redwood country. It's also pot country, so don't do any backroad exploring to find an isolated spot. From The City it's 4-5 hours to Garberville, then another 4-5 hours to Crater Lake.  If you're going straight through, the eastern route might be the way to go. Whatever you do...avoid the central valley. Unless you have AC.


Edited by PNW, 27 June 2021 - 01:07 PM.


#17 vsteblina

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Posted 27 June 2021 - 12:47 PM

Thank you. Any decent free places to camp with decent roads? I'm not in a very offroad-worthy vehicle this trip (next time). Or developed campgrounds or places to stay that cater to astronomy, or are just good spots to camp and set up a telescope right outside your tent with clear horizons all around. 

 

 

I could also use general route feedback. I'm coming from the bay area and not in a huge rush this week since the moon will still be out. Would you go up the coast or more direct through the middle of the state? Assume I am mostly unfamiliar with all of it. 

 

I would go up 1 to 101 and then skip over to Crater Lake.  The weather forecast is good for along the northern California coast.  It is also dark!!!  The California coast is pretty special, much nicer than the Oregon or Washington coast.

 

Spend a day here: https://usbackroads....california.html

 

It might be difficult finding a campsite in the area.

 

Head north to Ft. Bragg and this California State Park:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=436

 

Lots of interesting state parks all along Highway 1.  When you hit 101...do take the Avenue of the Giants, and visit Praire Creek State Park and Jediah Smith State Park.  Stay away from Redwood National Park...all the good stuff is in the original state parks. 

 

Once you hit BLM and FS lands you generally can camp anywhere you want for 14 days on BLM and usually 21 on FS. 

 

Stop at FS and BLM offices and talk to the Recreation or Resource Staff and they will get you places to camp with views and clear skylines for astronomy. 

 

You should be frank with them about your driving skills on remote dirt roads and ability to read maps.  Plenty of places that you can easily access with a sedan.



#18 xonefs

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Posted 27 June 2021 - 11:57 PM



Go to Nevada my friend. Look at a light pollution map and Nevada is that expansive area of black. Another incredible advantage is the easy access to solitude and natural beauty. I love the are around Ely (elevation 6500) which is cool all summer long, big horizons all around and endless amounts of BLM and National Forest land to camp in. Some great spots to camp are Cleeve Creek, Illipah Reservoir, Ward Mountain and of course Great Basin. 

 

I actually did stop at Great Basin on my way from Utah to catch the lunar eclipse. Ended up taking a nap at the top at 10k in my car then found a spot a little lower to catch it with visibility just as it was setting behind the ridge of that mountain:

 

5II33EMl.jpg

 

I went to Ely the next day but didn't end up sticking around- Nevada towns have some weird vibes. It does seem like there is cool stuff around there for sure but I don't know if there is enough normal landscape stuff to keep me interested to make going that direction more worthwhile over other destinations. The very low key nature/crowds at great basin and that area is my kind of place though it's just small. I just feel like I need to explore more than just things that will satisfy me for deep sky and I did 10 days in the middle of nowhere desert in Animas, NM already for that itch. There's so much of this country I haven't seen. I would like to explore more remote desert areas in the future when I have a 4x4. 

 

 

 



I would go up 1 to 101 and then skip over to Crater Lake.  The weather forecast is good for along the northern California coast.  It is also dark!!!  The California coast is pretty special, much nicer than the Oregon or Washington coast.

 

Spend a day here: https://usbackroads....california.html

 

It might be difficult finding a campsite in the area.

 

Head north to Ft. Bragg and this California State Park:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=436

 

Lots of interesting state parks all along Highway 1.  When you hit 101...do take the Avenue of the Giants, and visit Praire Creek State Park and Jediah Smith State Park.  Stay away from Redwood National Park...all the good stuff is in the original state parks. 

 

Once you hit BLM and FS lands you generally can camp anywhere you want for 14 days on BLM and usually 21 on FS. 

 

Stop at FS and BLM offices and talk to the Recreation or Resource Staff and they will get you places to camp with views and clear skylines for astronomy. 

 

You should be frank with them about your driving skills on remote dirt roads and ability to read maps.  Plenty of places that you can easily access with a sedan.

 

This is good advice, thanks for the info I'll have to do some research. If the coast is very dark maybe I could get a little astro in there if I hang around. I just remember the marine layer/transparency was pretty bad along the coast on my way up. 


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#19 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 02:46 AM

I've been up and down the coast many times in the MG. 101 at the Humbolt / Mendocino border has some of the darkest skies I've ever seen.

 

 

How about "clearest skies?"

 

Any mention of the California-Oregon coast raises a red flag.. 

 

"Unfortunately, after the Navy opened the station, it discovered that Arcata had the third foggiest weather in the world. On occasion, fog would set in for weeks at a time. As a result, the Navy failed to achieve the maximum intended utilization of the station, but did take advantage of the situation by conducting fog dispersal experiments."

 

http://www.militarym...NAASArcata.html

 

 

Arcata is within a few miles of Eureka.. 

 

Jon



#20 bunyon

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 07:24 AM

If observing isn’t the most important thing on the trip and seeing new stuff is, go where you haven’t been and hope you get lucky. The best observing is remote, high and dry. No way to substitute for those things.

#21 vsteblina

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 01:29 PM

How about "clearest skies?"

 

Any mention of the California-Oregon coast raises a red flag.. 

 

"Unfortunately, after the Navy opened the station, it discovered that Arcata had the third foggiest weather in the world. On occasion, fog would set in for weeks at a time. As a result, the Navy failed to achieve the maximum intended utilization of the station, but did take advantage of the situation by conducting fog dispersal experiments."

 

http://www.militarym...NAASArcata.html

 

 

Arcata is within a few miles of Eureka.. 

 

Jon

Yeah, I wouldn't spend the summer there, but the forecast for the next several days indicates that the fog will be very close to the coast.

 

Forecast is for "patchy" fog along the coast.  It is just a short drive up into the coast range to get out of the fog. 

 

The fog belt along the northern California coast is pretty much the Redwood ecosystem.  Get beyond the Redwood trees and your generally beyond the fog belt.

 

A couple of winters ago I spent several nights along Highway 1 just west and north of Moro Bay.  It was dark!!  If I lived in California I would check that area at for observing.
 


Edited by vsteblina, 28 June 2021 - 01:39 PM.


#22 PNW

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 05:43 PM

The "town" of Piercy is on 101 at the Mendocino / Humbolt line....40 miles from the coast and about 60 miles south of Arcata.. The once fabled home of Reggae on the River. Check it out on a dark sky ap.



#23 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 28 June 2021 - 06:48 PM

If I lived in California I would check that area at for observing.

 

 

The southern desert parts have more clear nights, longer summer nights and a lack of mosquitoes.. play the altitude game, low in the winter, high in the summer.

 

Jon


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#24 GilATM

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Posted 29 June 2021 - 01:01 AM

The farther North, the lower Sagittarius.   I'm just saying.  : )

 

I'd try the Lassen/Modoc plateau - lots of volcanics, dark dry skies.

 

Gil



#25 xonefs

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Posted 29 June 2021 - 01:16 AM

The farther North, the lower Sagittarius.   I'm just saying.  : )

 

I'd try the Lassen/Modoc plateau - lots of volcanics, dark dry skies.

 

Gil

Yeah I know, and shorter nights. Factors I need to consider and balance out and all stuff I didn't really think about before... I don't know what people in Canada do. 




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